Sean Moncrieff: Because of my poor life decisions, I probably won’t retire

The message seems to be ‘stay busy so you don’t have to think about the bottom falling out of your life’

Because of my poor life decisions, I probably won’t retire; which is just as well as I have no urge to do so. I don’t fantasise about spending more time in the garden or reading lots of history books. Anyway, I’m too young yet; though I am at the age where I have to point out that I’m too young yet.

I do occasionally dream about telling people to shove things in certain places; but we all do that. There are a few professional things that I’d still like to do. Whether I’ll manage that is another matter. I’m just not ready to give up yet, and I’d miss the forward momentum of going to work, of having deadlines to meet and problems to solve. Paid work isn’t the only thing in my life but it is significant in giving me a sense of purpose.

But that’s me: I know many retirees who are happy out. They didn’t hate their jobs – they were useful – yet they managed to never be completely absorbed by their professions. Now their relationship with time seems different to mine. They are content to exist in a continuous present, without having to worry about, or look forward to, the next job to be tackled. They’ve managed a kind of mindfulness without having to sign up for yoga classes or consulting a guru.

Yet I’m sure there are people who have retired – willingly or otherwise – for whom it wasn’t so easy. The busyness of work coming to a stop must be disorienting, and may be accompanied by a sudden feeling of uselessness, a sense that the world is continuing without them. It’s a cruelly contradictory message: after a lifetime of being told that your work is hugely important, suddenly it isn’t.


Rather than retiring, which connotes something coming to an end, we could call it something else. Or perhaps there's a different way of organising it.

When you Google it, there’s a thing called the five stages of retirement (which isn’t dissimilar to the seven stages of grief), some articles on how retirement can put a strain on marriages, lots of financial advice, but astonishingly little about the potential psychological toll of such a major life change. We worry, rightly, about the mental health of millennials and all the alphabetical generations, but if you’re over 65, a generation far less inclined to go in for performative emoting on social media – ah, you’re grand.

In fairness, the Retirement Planning Council and various other voluntary groups do provide a lot of worthwhile courses and activities; the stress, rightly, being on staying busy. And they don't mean it like this, but to me it feels like the message is: stay busy so you don't have to think about the bottom falling out of your life.

Perhaps there’s a different way of describing all this, and thinking about it. Rather than retiring, which connotes something coming to an end, we could call it something else. Or perhaps there’s a different way of organising it. Not everyone may want to stop their professional life at a specific date. They may want to gradually reduce their work hours for as long as they, and their employers, feel they can be useful.

Yet if you are one of the younger generations, you might be reading this and thinking: pity about you. Because the generation that can retire, that can love it or dread it, is still the lucky one. The permanent and pensionable job is becoming increasingly scarce. One US estimate claims that a millennial now would have to save 40 per cent of her income for 30 years to have a viable private pension. And the State pension is under increasing pressure because Ireland is rapidly aging. At the moment, we have five people of working age for every person over 65. In 30 years' time, the proportion will be just two to one. Retirement may become a thing people used to worry about. Because it won't exist.